Wolf Totem

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For the 2015 film based on this novel, see Wolf Totem (film).
Wolf Totem
WolfTotem.jpg
Cover of the first edition
Author Jiang Rong (pseudonym)
Original title 狼图腾 (Láng Túténg)
Country  China
Language Chinese and has been translated into more than 30 languages
Genre Novel
Publisher Changjiang Literature and Arts Publishing House
Publication date
April 2004
Media type Print (Paperback)
ISBN 7-5354-2730-8
OCLC 55622937
LC Class PL2942.3.A44 L36 2004

Wolf Totem is a 2004 Chinese semi-autobiographical novel about the experiences of a young student from Beijing who finds himself sent to the countryside of Inner Mongolia in 1967, at the height of China's Cultural Revolution.[1] The author, Lü Jiamin, wrote the book under the pseudonym Jiang Rong; his true identity did not become publicly known until several years after the book's publication.[2]

Themes[edit]

Wolf Totem is narrated by the main character, Chen Zhen, a Chinese man in his late twenties who, like the author, left his home in Beijing, China to work in Inner Mongolia during the Cultural Revolution.[3] Through descriptions of folk traditions, rituals, and life on the steppe, Wolf Totem compares the culture of the ethnic Mongolian nomads and the Han Chinese farmers in the area. According to some interpretations, the book praises the "freedom, independence, respect, unyielding before hardship, teamwork and competition" of the former and criticizes the "Confucian-inspired culture" of the latter, which was "sheep-like".[1] The book condemns the agricultural collectivisation imposed on the nomads by the settlers, and the ecological disasters it caused, and ends with a 60-page "call to action" disconnected from the main thread of the novel.[4]

The author has said he was inspired to begin writing Wolf Totem by accident: he ignored the advice of the clan chief of the group of nomads with whom he was staying, and accidentally stumbled across a pack of wolves. Terrified, he watched as the wolves chased a herd of sheep off a cliff, then dragged their corpses into a cave. From then on, fascinated by the wolves, he began to study them and their relationship with the nomads more closely, and even attempted to domesticate one.[4]

Marketing[edit]

Wolf Totem exhibited strong sales almost immediately after its release, selling 50,000 copies in two weeks; pirated editions began to appear five days after the book first appeared on shelves.[5] By March 2006, it had sold over four million copies in China, and had been broadcast in audiobook format in twelve parts during prime time on China Radio International.[4] Jiang released a children's edition of the book in July 2005, cut down to roughly one-third the length.[4][6][7]

Despite the author's refusal to participate in marketing the book, deals for adaptations of the novel into other media and translations into other languages have set financial records.[8] Penguin Books paid US$100,000 for the worldwide English rights, setting a record for the highest amount paid for the translation rights to a Chinese book; an unspecified Tokyo publisher paid US$300,000 for the rights to publish a manga adaptation, and Bertelsmann bought the German-language rights for €20,000.[4] The author has said that he believes that "in the West they may understand [my book] more fully" than in China.[6]

Other writers took advantage of the author's anonymity to write fake sequels to Wolf Totem, including two books titled Wolf Totem 2, as well as Great Wolf of the Plains,[9] all with the imprint of the Changjiang Arts Publishing House. As a result, in April 2007, the author issued a statement that denounced all such "sequels" as fraudulent; he indicated that he was doing research for another book, but would not be publishing anything new in the short term.[10]

Critical reaction[edit]

Despite Jiang's stated refusal to attend any awards ceremonies or participate in any publicity, Wolf Totem has received more than 10 literary prizes, as well as other recognitions, including:[4]

  • Named as one of the "Ten Best Chinese-language Books of 2004" by international newsweekly Yazhou Zhoukan[11]
  • Nominee for the 2nd "21st Century Ding Jun Semiannual Literary Prize" in 2005[12]
  • Recipient of the first Man Asian Literary Prize, November 2007[13]

Wolf Totem has also been the subject of criticism. German sinologist Wolfgang Kubin described the book as "fascist" for its depiction and treatment of the farmers.[14] Pankaj Mishra, reviewing the English translation for The New York Times, described Jiang's writing as "full of set-piece didacticism."[15]

English translations[edit]

Film adaptation[edit]

Main article: Wolf Totem (film)

Wolf Totem is a 2015 Chinese-language film based on the novel. Directed by French director Jean-Jacques Annaud, the Chinese-French co-production features a Chinese student who is sent to Inner Mongolia to teach shepherds and instead learns about the wolf population, which is under threat by a government apparatchik.

The Beijing Forbidden City Film Corporation initially sought to hire a Chinese director, but filming humans with real wolves was considered too difficult. New Zealand director Peter Jackson was approached, but production did not take place. Annaud, whose 1997 film Seven Years in Tibet is banned in China, was hired despite the history. The film was produced by China Film Group and French-based Reperage. The French director, who had worked with animals on other films, acquired a dozen wolf pups in China and had them trained for several years by a Canadian animal trainer. With a production budget of US$40 million, Annaud filmed Wolf Totem in Inner Mongolia, where the book is set, for over a year.

The film premiered at the European Film Market on February 7, 2015. It is scheduled to be released in China on February 19, 2015, for the start of the Chinese New Year, and in France on February 25, 2015.

See also[edit]

  • Zhang Chengzhi, a senior of Jiang's at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences who was also sent down to Ujimqin Banner during the Cultural Revolution and rose to fame through his writings about Inner Mongolia
  • Tengger, the Mongolian sky-god discussed in the novel

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b French, Howard (2005-11-03), "A Novel, by Someone, Takes China by Storm", The New York Times, retrieved 2007-04-20 
  2. ^ Bougon, Francois (2008-03-11), "Chinese ex-prisoner now global literary star", The China Post, retrieved 2008-03-14 
  3. ^ Jiang 2004
  4. ^ a b c d e f Kremb, Jürgen (2006-03-21), "A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing: Beijing's Unwanted Best Seller", Der Spiegel, retrieved 2007-04-20 
  5. ^ Wu, Fei (2004-05-26), "姜戎:用半条命著《狼图腾》 (Jiang Rong: "I spent half my life writing Wolf Totem")", Xinhua News, retrieved 2007-04-20 
  6. ^ a b Spencer, Richard (2005-10-29), "Best-seller urges Chinese to release their inner wolf", The Daily Telegraph, retrieved 2006-04-20 
  7. ^ "姜戎将出《狼图腾》少儿版《小狼小狼》 (Jiang Rong to release Wolf Totem children's version Little Wolfie)", Sina News, 2005-08-10, retrieved 2007-04-20 
  8. ^ Cheng, Ye (2005-06-07), "《指环王》班底助阵特中国电影《狼图腾》 ("Lord of the Rings" team to assist with special effects for Chinese movie Wolf Totem)", Beijing Youth Daily, retrieved 2007-04-20 
  9. ^ Chinese title: 草原狼王. ISBN 7-80701-337-0
  10. ^ Jiang, Rong (2007-04-12), "姜戎发表郑重声明揭露《狼图腾》伪书 (Jiang Rong issues serious statement denouncing Wolf Totem fakes)", Xinhua News, retrieved 2007-04-20 
  11. ^ Zhang, Hailing (2005-01-16), "2004亞洲週刊十大好書揭曉 (Announcement of Yazhou Zhoukan's 10 Best Chinese Books of 2004", Yazhou Zhoukan, retrieved 2007-04-20 
  12. ^ "第二届"21世纪鼎钧双年文学奖"揭晓 (Announcement of the 2nd '21st Century Ding Jun Semiannual Literary Prize')", Sina News, 2005-04-05, retrieved 2007-04-20 
  13. ^ "Chinese author scoops book prize", BBC News, 2007-11-11, retrieved 2008-03-14 
  14. ^ "德国汉学权威另一只眼看现当代中国文学 ("Authoritative German sinologist looks at contemporary Chinese literature with a different eye")", Deutsche Welle, 2006-11-26, retrieved 2007-04-21 
  15. ^ Mishra, Pankaj (2008-05-04), "Call of the Wild (Wolf Totem - Jiang Rong - Book Review)", The New York Times, retrieved 2008-05-04 
  16. ^ New and forthcoming titles and highlights from the backlist (PDF), Australia: Penguin Books, 2007, retrieved 2007-06-14